Sir James Paul McCartney CH MBE (born 18 June 1942) is an English singer, songwriter, musician, and record and film producer who gained worldwide fame as co-lead vocalist and bassist for the Beatles. His songwriting partnership with John Lennon remains the most successful in history. After the group disbanded in 1970, he pursued a solo career and formed the band Wings with his first wife, Linda, and Denny Laine.
A self-taught musician, McCartney is proficient on bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums. He is known for his melodic approach to bass-playing (mainly playing with a plectrum), his versatile and wide tenor vocal range (spanning over four octaves), and his eclecticism (exploring styles ranging from pre-rock and roll pop to classical and electronica). McCartney began his career as a member of the Quarrymen in 1957, which evolved into the Beatles in 1960. Starting with the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he gradually became the Beatles' de facto leader, providing the creative impetus for most of their music and film projects. His Beatles songs "And I Love Her" (1964), "Yesterday" (1965), "Eleanor Rigby" (1966) and "Blackbird" (1968) rank among the most covered songs in history.
In 1970, McCartney debuted as a solo artist with the album McCartney. Throughout the 1970s, he led Wings, one of the most successful bands of the decade, with more than a dozen international top 10 singles and albums. McCartney resumed his solo career in 1980. Since 1989, he has toured consistently as a solo artist. In 1993, he formed the music duo the Fireman with Youth of Killing Joke. Beyond music, he has taken part in projects to promote international charities related to such subjects as animal rights, seal hunting, land mines, vegetarianism, poverty, and music education.
McCartney is one of the most successful composers and performers of all time. He has written or co-written 32 songs that have reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and as of 2009, had sales of 25.5 million RIAA-certified units in the United States. His honours include two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as a member of the Beatles in 1988 and as a solo artist in 1999), 18 Grammy Awards, an appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965, and a knighthood in 1997 for services to music. As of 2020, he is also one of the wealthiest musicians in the world, with an estimated fortune of £800 million.
Best known for primarily using a plectrum or pick, McCartney occasionally plays fingerstyle. He was strongly influenced by Motown artists, in particular James Jamerson, whom McCartney called a hero for his melodic style. He was also influenced by Brian Wilson, as he commented: "because he went to very unusual places". Another favourite bassist of his is Stanley Clarke. McCartney's skill as a bass player has been acknowledged by bassists including Sting, Dr. Dre bassist Mike Elizondo, and Colin Moulding of XTC.
During McCartney's early years with the Beatles, he primarily used a Höfner 500/1 bass, although from 1965, he favoured his Rickenbacker 4001S for recording. While typically using Vox amplifiers, by 1967, he had also begun using a Fender Bassman for amplification. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, he used a Wal 5-String, which he said made him play more thick-sounding basslines, in contrast to the much lighter Höfner, which inspired him to play more sensitively, something he considers fundamental to his playing style. He changed back to the Höfner around 1990 for that reason. He uses Mesa Boogie bass amplifiers while performing live.
McCartney was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as a member of the Beatles and again as a solo artist in 1999. In 1979, the Guinness Book of World Records recognised McCartney as the "most honored composer and performer in music", with 60 gold discs (43 with the Beatles, 17 with Wings) and, as a member of the Beatles, sales of over 100 million singles and 100 million albums, and as the "most successful song writer", he wrote jointly or solo 43 songs which sold one million or more records between 1962 and 1978. In 2009, Guinness World Records again recognised McCartney as the "most successful songwriter" having written or co-written 188 charted records in the United Kingdom, of which 91 reached the top 10 and 33 made it to number one.
McCartney has written, or co-written, 32 number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100: twenty with the Beatles; seven solo or with Wings; one as a co-writer of "A World Without Love", a number-one single for Peter and Gordon; one as a co-writer on Elton John's cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"; one as a co-writer on Stars on 45's "Medley"; one as a co-writer with Michael Jackson on "Say Say Say"; and one as writer on "Ebony and Ivory" performed with Stevie Wonder. As of 2009, he has 15.5 million RIAA certified units in the United States as a solo artist plus another 10 million with Wings.
Credited with more number ones in the UK than any other artist, McCartney has participated in twenty-four chart topping singles: seventeen with the Beatles, one solo, and one each with Wings, Stevie Wonder, Ferry Aid, Band Aid, Band Aid 20 and "The Christians et al." He is the only artist to reach the UK number one as a soloist ("Pipes of Peace"), duo ("Ebony and Ivory" with Wonder), trio ("Mull of Kintyre", Wings), quartet ("She Loves You", the Beatles), quintet ("Get Back", the Beatles with Billy Preston) and as part of a musical ensemble for charity (Ferry Aid).
"Yesterday" is one of the most covered songs in history with more than 2,200 recorded versions, and according to the BBC, "the track is the only one by a UK writer to have been aired more than seven million times on American TV and radio and is third in the all-time list … is the most played song by a British writer century in the US". His 1968 Beatles composition "Hey Jude" achieved the highest sales in the UK that year and topped the US charts for nine weeks, which is longer than any other Beatles single. It was also the longest single released by the band and, at seven minutes eleven seconds, was at that time the longest number one. "Hey Jude" is the best-selling Beatles single, achieving sales of over five million copies soon after its release.
In July 2005, McCartney's performance of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" with U2 at Live 8 became the fastest-released single in history. Available within forty-five minutes of its recording, hours later it had achieved number one on the UK Official Download Chart.
In December 2020, the release of his album McCartney III and its subsequent charting at number 2 on the US Billboard 200 earned McCartney the feat of being the first artist to have a new album in the top two chart positions in each of the last six decades.